As Dumbledore so wisely tells us, "Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself."
So, let's call it what it is and talk about it for a minute. Why does it make people squirm when I mention it? (By the way, it seems appropriate to note here that I wrote this post QUITE a while ago, but I was too afraid of what others might think to post it. However, this year I've resolved to stop worrying about what other people think, so this post is a step in that direction.)
Guess what, folks. Babies have to eat. It's a vital part of development. In fact, eating is probably the most important part of being a thriving baby. And my precious baby is a good eater. I couldn't be more grateful.
I know why people quit. Goodness knows that I know why women quit.
I know why women give it up. I know why some don't even start. I also know that this is a controversial subject, though I'm not sure why. Like so much of pregnancy and child rearing, I feel like it's the hegemonic aspects of our society that cause us to have to dance around subjects, that push us up against each other, against other women enduring the same struggles and facing the same choices--the ones who should be our allies--until we're left with nothing and feel totally alone. Even as I write this, I feel the need to say that I support ALL mothers, and I respect the choices that they make for their families. I just need to pause for a moment to talk about my choice.
Breastfeeding is my choice, but, like most choices that are those we most fundamentally believe at the core of our beings, it doesn't feel like much of a choice. I have a child, and I can breastfeed; therefore, that's what I will do. What that means is that I will pump three times a day for the rest of this school year. I will wake up at 5:30 every morning (on those lucky mornings when we make it through the night to reach 5:30 before getting up) so that I can feed my daughter and then pump the first round for milk that she'll need the next day while we're apart. I'll use my "free" time during the teaching day to pump again, and then as soon as students leave at 3:00, I will do my best to pump a third time before going to meetings and working with students. I will wash all of the parts every day, along with all of the bottles--so many bottles!--both for milk collection and for her to take at daycare. I will measure and sort all of the milk when I get home so that I can get her bottles ready for the next day. I will freeze what's left in strange little bags with the label "mother's milk" on them.
I will hold my breath, let it out slow, and get ready to do it all again.
It's a struggle. Of course it's one I believe in, but that doesn't make it less real or less intense. I knew it would be hard, but I didn't know just how hard it would be. The worst part is the well-wishers who say things to be supportive and wind up just undermining my choices and my beliefs. People, often moms themselves with the best intentions, say things like, "It was so much easier when I switched to formula" OR "You'll have a lot more time when you quit pumping" OR "Eventually you'll have to supplement, so you could start now." All of them are intended to console, but they often make me feel bitter and isolated and alone.
So, I want to say now: I support ALL moms. We've got to find a way to support each other, and that starts with being able to talk about breastfeeding outside of our moms' groups, our safe spaces where we go to ask secret questions that we're afraid to voice anywhere else. We've got to show our society that it's okay to talk about formula and breastfeeding, and that it's okay for different people to make different decisions for their families. We've got to stop apologizing for the fact that breastfeeding makes people uncomfortable--we've got to work toward creating a culture where it's no longer uncomfortable to talk about or to see.
We've also got to find a way to acknowledge how difficult it is to work full time and breastfeed your baby. We've got to talk about how awful it feels to use up ALL of your leave when your baby is tiny so that every day forward that your wee one is sick, you wind up simultaneously paying for the place s/he can't attend while being docked for the place you cannot go. We've got to talk about how space and concessions must be made for all of the parts of having a child and working.
Talking about it might be a good first step toward reforming some of the (broken, let's say it) systems we have in place concerning maternity in the work force. So let's talk about breastfeeding, and let's find a way to support the women who are doing it.